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Life Principles of the Happiest and Most Successful Among Us: 25 Truths . . .a TOS Review

We were given the book Life Principles of the Happiest and Most Successful Among Us: 25 Truths from Ed Douglas Publications, written by Ed Douglas, a retired businessman, to review.

At 150 pages, it is a fairly quick and easy read. Mr. Douglas is also the author of two other books, “Making a Million With Only $2000: Every Young Person Can Do It”, and “The Money Marathon: 7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom”. He gives seminars to adults and students about financial topics, as well as seminars on topics of character, values and virtue. Mr. Douglas has also served under three different Missouri Governors in positions such as Commissioner of the Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission, and President of the Northwest Missouri State University Board of Regents. He is currently serving on the William Jewell College Board, a number of local civic boards, and is an active member of his local church. He has been the high school tennis coach for the past fifteen years and is a member of the Fifty States Marathon Club, having run sixteen marathons in fifteen states.

From the website:

“This book began as a three page list that Ed had compiled and titled “Life’s Truths” or “25 Tips for an Enjoyable Life.” He shared the list with friends, acquaintances, and students that he coached as the head high school tennis coach.

Today, in a time of declining morals and values, the book is a motivational and inspirational guide built around Christian principles about what is really important in life. The book covers character and values, caring and compassionately dealing with others, making a difference in the world, and much more. In today’s fast-paced word, there doesn’t seem to be time to discuss these important concepts with children and others, so each truth is concise and easy to read, followed by discussion questions.”

My impressions:

This book is meant to be for students in grades 6 through 12, and is written in relatively short chapters of about four pages each, which includes discussion questions at the close of each chapter. Unfortunately, in our case at least, it was written above what my kids could really read and understand, given that they have varying special needs. I did read it myself, however, and discuss various truths with them after reading and thinking on how to relate the truths to them in ways they would be able to comprehend.

Some of the 25 truths in this book that I was able to relate to my children based upon things in their own lives are:

Truth # 3 – Watch What You Say, Do And Write

Truth # 5 – Tell the Truth

Truth # 8 – Be Quick To Apologize

Truth # 11 – Take it One Step at a Time

I was able to take these truths, and kind of change how we discussed them away from the business oriented theme of the book, to more of a biblical theme. As this book is marketed as a Christian book, I think I would have preferred to see the 25 truths written in terms of living a good Christian testimony, as opposed to what seems to me to be a book about becoming successful financially. God never promised financial success, but He does want us to live a good testimony. Also, there were some areas that touched on topics I don’t believe my children need to read about at this point in their lives, such as in truth # 3, “Watch What You Say, Do and Write”, in which he talks about the infidelities of Tiger Woods and former Governor Mark Sanford, and how it all came out in the tabloid press. I did use this truth, but preferred to use other examples, such as their everyday behavior, both at home and in front of others.

I think this book would work well with secular home-schoolers, and with adults, and it really is a good book if what you are looking for is a “how to be a success financially and in business” book, but it wasn’t a great fit for our family.

“Life Principles of the Happiest and Most Successful Among Us: 25 Truths” by Ed Douglas is available here for $12.50

Other crewmembers reviewed this book as well, so please sail on over to find out their thoughts!
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Moving Beyond the Page . . . a TOS Review

During the past few weeks, my boys and I have had the pleasure of reviewing a “new to us” curriculum from Moving Beyond the Page.

Each reviewer from the Schoolhouse Review Crew was given two different unit studies, a language arts unit and either a social studies or science unit. One was a physical copy, and the other was an online unit study, with the necessary books being mailed to us.

My family received Unit 3, “American Heroes” (Language Arts), and “People Change the World” (Social Studies). These are both geared for ages 7 – 9, and are designed to work together, although any of the units sold by Moving Beyond the Page can also be stand alone products. In our case, the language arts unit was the one we received as an online unit, and the social studies unit was the physical copy mailed to us. This way, we would get a good look at how each works, and be able to tell you what we thought of each method.

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Here is a picture of what we received, for use with both units.

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As you can see, we received the printed copy of the social studies curriculum “People Change the World“, and the accompanying story books “The Starry Messenger” by Peter Sis and “Miss Rumphius” by Barbara Cooney. The Social Studies unit we received sells for $32.97 if you want the physical copy mailed to you, and $28.91 if you wish to purchase the online version. We also received a physical copy of the book “50 American Heroes” by Dennis Denenberg and Lorraine Roscoe. As I said before, we received the online version of the language arts unit, which sells for $ 27.88, while the physical copy sells for $$31.94.

The only big differences between the online version and the physical copy were that with the online version, the curriculum and worksheets are online, so I read the lessons on my tablet and then printed out whatever activity sheets were necessary for each lesson, whereas with the physical copy, all of that was in the printed curriculum book. Because of copyright issues, you cannot make copies of the activity sheets from the book, which is the one downside to the printed version. However, the one downside to the online version is that you have access for only three months. Now, each unit is designed to be finished within about three weeks, so of course, that does give you plenty of time to complete your unit, but personally, my whole goal in purchasing online, downloadable material, is so that it can be used again with younger siblings. With access being given only for a few months, it feels more as if it’s a rental than a purchase. At the same time, because the download version is licensed to a family, you may print out activity pages for each child doing the unit, while the printed version doesn’t permit that.

In our case, we do a LOT of things as a group, because I have special needs children. Between that, and the fact that I am STILL recovering from surgery, and mostly stuck on the couch with my feet on pillows, we did this as a group, and mostly orally, which is one way I tweak a lot of curriculum to fit the abilities of my children. When there was an activity page that could be printed out that they were able to handle, that’s what we did.

Each day, my boys would gather around in the family room and listen while I read to them from the lessons. I read the story books out loud to them as well. Although most of the actual activities were too much for them, we WERE able to go through them orally, as a group, which led to lots of good discussions, and questions. In fact, pretty much every day when their dad got home from work, all of the boys went on their own and told him all about what they had learned, and talked about that day while doing these units. 🙂

Here are all of my boys working on an assignment . . .

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In this assignment, they were matching contractions to the words they were made from, and then writing sentences that went with what they had learned that day, with each sentence containing one contraction from the list on their activity page. Off to the side, you can see a stack of drawings. They had each drawn three pictures of inventions or discoveries they felt had changed the world, an assignment from that day’s social studies lesson. Not surprisingly, each and every one of them chose television as one of the inventions! 🙂

From the website:

“All children can benefit from our unique approach to education. This is especially true for hands-on, creative, and gifted learners. A traditional or classical approach will often leave these children bored and uninspired.”

Now, my children are not considered “gifted” children, but even so, they did get quite a lot out of both of these units. I was actually very surprised, frankly, because I wasn’t sure at all that even with major tweaking (which I often need to do with purchased curriculum), that they would be able to handle it. But, I am very pleased to tell you that even with a curriculum that states right up front that it is at least in part geared to “gifted” students, if you take the time to do it in a different way, your special needs children can learn from this, too. My children learned more in-depth about several people (Harriet Tubman, Galileo, etc) than they might have otherwise, BECAUSE we did these units orally, and because I was stuck on the couch and couldn’t do much of anything else, we had the time to devote to their questions, and their discussions. My children were interested and eager each day to get to these units, which makes me happy, because as most of you already know, I am a firm believer that there is no reason at all that learning cannot, or should not, be enjoyable, if that is at all possible. My boys enjoyed this, so I enjoyed it, too.

To read what my fellow crew mates thought of this and other units from Moving Beyond the Page, please click the graphic below!

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Baker Publishing Group, a Review of The Adventures of Lily Lapp, for the Schoolhouse Review Crew

At least in part because I’m currently recovering from surgery on both of my feet, and (mostly) stuck on the couch with my feet elevated, I was very glad to be chosen for this review. Also, to be honest, I have always enjoyed reading Amish fiction, and this is the first time for me to be reading Amish fiction centered around a child.

Baker Publishing Group has thus far published two of the expected four books in a series called The Adventures of Lily Lapp, and we received both of them to read and review! Book one is titled “Life with Lily“,

and book two is titled “A New Home for Lily“.

These books are geared toward children aged 8 – 12, and you might think they are written for girls, but don’t let either of those things stop you! As most of you know, I have no girls, I have four boys. Every one of my boys came drifting out to the living room, as I lay on the couch, feet propped on pillows, to hear me read these charming stories out loud,

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and every one of my boys sat on the floor while I was reading, and did the coloring pages and word searches that go with each book, and can be downloaded from here.

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Here are some of the finished pages . . .

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The books in this series are a combination of the real life childhood memories of Mary Ann Kinsinger, who was raised Old Order Amish but chose to leave as an adult with her husband, and the best selling writing of Suzanne Woods Fisher. Mary Ann Kinsinger now writes the popular blog A Joyful Chaos, while Suzanne Woods Fisher, author of several Amish novels which include the Lancaster County Secrets series and The Keeper, is the host of the internet radio show Amish Wisdom.

We have very much enjoyed reading both of these books! It was so funny, one of my boys, “Mr. Loquacious” was constantly saying “uh oh”, at different times in the book, because he KNEW that whatever Lily, or one of her younger brothers, was about to get up to was going to get them into trouble. 🙂

My boys were consistent throughout the book in pointing out things like “you say that all the time, mom”, when one of Lily’s parents would give them a bit of a talking to about something. While the Amish don’t necessarily believe EXACTLY the same in all ways as we do regarding matters of faith, there were many areas where my kids spotted right away that it was the same, such as their belief that it wasn’t God honoring to celebrate Halloween, for example.

In “Life with Lily” (you can read an excerpt here), we meet five-year old Lily, who lives in upstate New York and who is learning to deal with lots of new things. She gets a new baby brother (although she really would like to have a sister!), she begins going to school for the first time, she has to learn to deal with having a girl at school who is pretty mean to her, and to others. She also loses her much-loved teacher, after she (the teacher) is badly injured in an accident, and then she and the other students must deal with a new, mean teacher. Because of the way the new teacher treats the students, she is not asked back, and the students end up home-schooling the following year while waiting to find a new teacher for their school. Lily also turns six during this time.

My boys were surprised to find out in the story that Amish children generally go to school only through the eight grade. A lot of other things surprised them, like having no electricity, no cars, etc. They kept saying it was “the olden days”, and having to be reminded that it really wasn’t, that the Amish live this way now.

Toward the end of book one, “Life with Lily“, Lily has yet another difficult thing to deal with, her family decides to move to another Amish community in Pennsylvania. Now Lily has to watch many of their belongings be auctioned off before the big move, which struck a chord with me, and with my boys, remembering less than a year ago when my husband’s job caused us to have to move 1700 miles from everything and everyone we’d ever known. My boys pointed out that it was like when I was sorting through deciding what to put into our moving sale, how hard that was.

In book two, “A New Home for Lily” (an excerpt is available here), we see the family move into their new home, a place Lily really, really dislikes. She doesn’t like the color of the house, or the kitchen counter. She learns that different Amish communities have different rules about dress (Lily’s mother must make all new clothes for them, and new head coverings for both herself and Lily), about technology (here, they are not allowed to have the refrigerator (which is not electric) kept in the kitchen, so they must put theirs on the porch. And Lily discovers that no matter where you go, there will still be disagreeable people to deal with, when she meets yet another mean girl in school.

This book carries us all the way through when Lily is promoted to the fourth grade. In this school, she once again has a teacher she can love, and makes new friends. She and her brothers do continue to get into mischief, though, and she also gains yet another baby brother.

I very much enjoy the writing in these books, it is so descriptive! A favorite sentence is toward the end of the second book, “A New Home for Lily” . . .

“The sun went down and darkness crept over the land like a big velvety blanket that was coming to tuck everything in for the night”

These stories are just full of descriptive writing like that!

There are two additional books planned for this series, “A Big Year for Lily” (read an excerpt here), due to be released in July, 2013, and in September 2013, book four, “A Surprise for Lily“, for which there is no excerpt available as yet.

I have already had to promise my kids that we’ll order the next two books, so that they can find out what else happens to Lily, and her brothers Joseph, Dannie and Paul! 🙂

The books are available for purchase at the cost of $12.99, which is a very fair price. These are not little, thin picture books. “Life with Lily” has 280 pages, and 39 short, easy to read chapters. “A New Home for Lily” is 266 pages, with 36 chapters. In both books, each chapter can stand alone as a self-contained story from Mary Ann Kinsinger’s childhood.

To read more reviews of The Adventures of Lily Lapp, please click below!

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Let’s Make a Web Page . . . a TOS Review

We recently had the opportunity to review “Let’s Make A Web Page” by Phyllis Wheeler, published by Motherboard Books, and available for purchase at the cost of $19.95.

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Wheeler, who bills herself as “The Computer Lady from Motherboard Books, promises this e-book for ages 8 and up “takes you by the hand and shows you how.”

The author advises that you download a free trial version of Visual Site Designer (VSD) from CoffeeCup and includes screen shots from that program in the e-book. The e-book states that it works on Windows XP and newer (we tested it with Windows 7), and also states will run on a Mac if you are running Parallels Desktop . There are no surprises; she fully discloses her reasons for recommending the program and tells you up-front you’ll need to pay for it ($49.00) if you want to use VSD past the trial period. As a result, however, most of this e-book is instructions, hints and tips for using VSD.

The lessons are written for ages 8 and up and as promised, they are easy to understand and there are plenty of screenshots to help. Later lessons provide great resources for free animations and backgrounds to add to your web page. There’s also a troubleshooting guide to help.

The Table of Contents are as follows:

Lesson 1: An Interview
Lesson 2: Download and Set Up the Program
Lesson 3: Add Text
Lesson 4: Add Photo
Lesson 6: From The Internet, Add Animations
Lesson 7: Browser Check, Backgrounds, Photos
Lesson 8: Sound
Lesson 9: Links
Lesson 10: Post Your Work
Appendix A: How to Upload to the Internet
Appendix B: Troubleshooting

Please note: The omission of “Lesson 5” is not my typo. More on this later.

Because of a recent surgery, I asked my husband to assist with this review. I have been “living better through chemistry” due to post-op pain, and I reasoned he would be (between the two of us) best suited to oversee this particular review. He chose “The Artist” as his guinea pig, test subject. Here’s how they did:

Lesson 1: An Interview – If you’re going to post a web page, you must have information to post. The author recommends having your child interview an adult and asking them five questions about themselves, their work, etc. Seeing as my husband has a standing policy of always being available to the media, “The Artist” chose him as his subject and his work (Tech Support Rep for a Wireless Communications Company) as the interview topic. They followed Wheeler’s recommendation to type the interview results into Notepad and save it for later use. She also recommends taking a digital picture of your interview subject to add later, but my husband already had several to choose from saved on the computer.

Lesson 2: Download and Set Up the Program – This step was fairly simple and straightforward. They followed the instructions provided, and had no difficulty installing the program. Wheeler also takes the opportunity here to get your web page file started by typing a small amount of text into your file, then saving the file within VSD. She also has you view the file in Notepad so you can see what VSD adds to that tiny bit of text to make it a web page! My husband was impressed by this.

Lesson 3: Add Text – Here the author has you re-open the file you’ve been working on so you can add the text of your interview. In addition to re-opening your web page file, she has you re-open the interview file you saved earlier in Notepad so you can copy and paste it into your web page.

Lesson 4: Add Photo – Here, Wheeler tells you how to add the digital photo you took earlier

Lesson 5: Mystery Lesson – I am assuming this was simply an error the editor missed; there is no Lesson 5!

Lesson 6: From The Internet, Add Animations — Great tips in this lesson! First, turn on Google Safe Search when you need to take your child out into the Wild, Wild Internet! Second, oversee your child’s trip on the net. Third, the author gives you a great source for kid’s animations, Animation Playhouse which lets you use the animations for free as long as you link back to the site (you’ll only need to do this if you post your page on the Internet). Here, “The Artist” chose a couple of appropriate animations to add to his page.

Lesson 7: Browser Check, Backgrounds, Photos – Here, the first thing “The Artist” did was check his work in Internet Explorer using the Preview function in VSD. Note: when “The Artist” tried to preview, a popup in IE said Active X content was blocked and gave us a button to allow it. Go ahead and select that button. We haven’t added any malicious code to our page (yet, anyway), so it will be safe to view. The page looked great!

The Backgrounds section of the lesson was a little confusing. Here, the author takes us on a little side trip by searching for “free background image” and going to a site that was chock-full of ads. You had to be very careful to select the icon which took you to the free backgrounds. She states she’s using this side trip to help us “learn to be wise.” If you feel your child needs this Internet lesson, then it’s a great addition. However, if you are an Internet Pro (as is my husband) and you are overseeing your student’s trip on the Information Superhighway, it might seem like an unnecessary side trip. They went straight for the “good” link the author provided, GrSites . This is another site that will let you use stuff for free, provided you link back to their site. Because “The Artist” knows I like purple, he chose a light purple background.

The author does not mention that you may need to resize your background. When “The Artist” originally downloaded the background, it showed as a tiny, little purple square on the white background of the page. However, when they went back to the web site where they selected their background and scrolled down, there was a Resize tool. The resized the background to the same approximate size of the web page they were creating.

The next step covers using images from the Internet, specifically Google Images. While Teacher and Student did go through the steps, Student didn’t find anything he wanted to add.

Lesson 8: Sound – This is another spot where “The Artist” ran into a snag that could be attributed to an editing error. After downloading a sound file and moving it to the correct folder, the e-book tells you to go to the Tools option in the Menu Bar and select “Insert HTML” to add the sound file to your web page. There has apparently been a recent change to the VSD, as it was labeled “Add HTML” in the Tool Menu. This threw off “The Artist”, as when dealing with computers, he is quite literal. Dad was able to help here and get the music file to play on the web page. However, if you do not have your own in-house tech support, I would recommend reviewing the Help PDF file or going to their Support page (both accessable in the VSD Help Menu).

Lesson 9: Links – Since the sources of the animations, background and sound files require attribution, this was a good place to add those links. “The Artist” followed the author’s instructions to copy and paste from the browser address bar to text boxes he made on the web page, then convert them using the Links icon in VSD.

Lesson 10: Post Your Work – We had no intention whatsoever of posting this page on the Internet. However, the author provides complete instructions for making it the Home Page for your browser. The Artist and my husband tested this in both Internet Explorer 10 and the Google Chrome, and they report excellent results!

Here is a picture of “The Artist” working on the project . . .

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Here is the project in progress . . .

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and now, the finished product!

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In the course of helping “The Artist” with this e-book, my husband had occasion to read the Help.pdf file included with the VSD. He is of the opinion that the author has done a very good job of taking the basic operating instructions of Coffee Cup Visual Site Designer and restating them in terms that 8-14 year olds can easily understand. She includes helpful tips (Google Safe Search) and resources for free images, animations and backgrounds. In addition, she provides examples of how the changes you make in the VSD changes your web page by viewing those changes using Notepad. There are also plentiful screen shots to assist.

However, he also feels that the editing errors in the version of the e-book given to me to review (omission of Lesson 5; not keeping up with the phrasing changes in the program’s drop-down menus so the e-book matches the program) make the product look somewhat unprofessional. Because the product is digital and not printed, it costs practically nothing except time to update the e-book to accommodate changes VSD. I do not know if the e-book has been revised in the interim. In addition, he feels that if anyone in the family is technically proficient, they could download the CoffeeCup VSD program on their own and save the cost of the e-book.

While he and “The Artist” did enjoy going through the lessons and building a webpage, my husband said it seemed like the customer is purchasing a commercial for CoffeeCup Visual Site Designer. The guide becomes virtually useless once the trial period expires, unless you spend $49.00 to purchase VSD. Once you purchase VSD, you have access to internal help files and the CoffeeCup Support Site, making this e-book redundant.

To read what other crew members thought of products from Motherboard Books, please click below.

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Math Mammoth . . . a TOS Review

When given the opportunity to choose from an abundance of different worktexts from a company called Math Mammoth to review with my children, I spent some time looking at all of the choices.

Rather than going with a full curriculum, I chose to focus on two worktexts which would specifically focus on areas some of my kids have problems with because of various special needs. I was actually thinking mostly of “The Batman”, who will always have problems with time and money as a result of pre-natal damage due to his birth mother having drank alcohol during pregnancy. He has Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). So, I chose two supplementary workbooks, Clock and US Money.

I chose to have “The Batman” work with these topics, but wanted “Mr. Loquacious” and “The Puzzler” to do them, as well, so when I received access to the pdf downloads, I printed three copies of each workbook.

I really like the trend lately of curriculum being made available as a pdf download. First, it’s almost always less expensive, because the vendor doesn’t have to add in the cost of printing a book, or charge you shipping to mail it to you, second, because you can generally use it for more than one child, and third, as those who know me well are aware, I don’t wait well. I like the instant gratification of getting my product as soon as it is ordered. As I have mentioned many times, my motto appears to be “instant gratification takes too long”, lol!

So, you can purchase the instant download of Math Mammoth Clock for $4.00, or a black and white printed copy for $10.85, by going here.

There are also links to sample pages here.

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From the Webpage:

“Math Mammoth Clock is a worktext that covers telling time and reading the clock, telling time intervals, and understanding the calendar. It is suitable for grades 1, 2, and 3.”

The pdf worktext is fully printable, which is how I chose to use it, printing out the pages as needed and having the kids fill in the answers on the paper. However, if you prefer, this pdf is enabled for annotation. What this means is that you could, if you choose, have your student work directly on the computer, by using the typewriter and drawing tools in Adobe Reader version 9 or greater.

More from Math Mammoth Clock:

“Math Mammoth Clock covers reading the clock, figuring out simple time intervals, and using the calendar, all in one book. The topics progress starting from the first grade level to the third grade level. Therefore, you also can let your child work the pages of this book in different time periods, and not go through it all at once, depending on your child’s current level.

The lessons are divided to the grade-levels this way: reading the clock to the half-hour is first grade material; reading the clock to the five-minute intervals is second grade; and reading the clock to the minute is third grade level. I realize this is somewhat arbitrary, and there is no need to follow it exactly but I want to explain it so you can keep it in mind that the material in this book does get more difficult towards the end.”

Here are some pictures of my kids doing clock pages:

First, we have “The Puzzler” . . .

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Next, we have “Mr. Loquacious” . . .

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And finally, “The Batman”!

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In the Clock worktext, the only real issue my kids had was that when they were learning about time to the half hour, they kept wanting to put in answers such as “5:30”, instead of “half-past five”, the latter being the format being taught. It was mostly just a matter of this being the way they had always heard it referred to, and once they caught on that this was the way the book was teaching it, it became easier.

This is a 78 page worktext (including answers), covering time from learning the clock all the way into elapsed time, calendar, and changing time units. We are still working our way through the clock, as these particular three boys need a lot of help learning to read an analog clock. However, I was pleased to see how quickly “The Batman” picked up on it, as he is the one who has always had trouble in this area. “The Puzzler” was actually the one child who had the most problems understanding it, and “Mr. Loquacious” picked it up very quickly. I did find similar results when we worked in the US Money worktext, which I will go into next.

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The Math Mammoth worktext US Money can be purchased here. The pdf download is $3.25, or you can order a black and white printed copy for $9.50.

Math Mammoth Money is also available in the following:

Canadian Money
European Money
British Money
Australian Money

This is a 51 page worktext, including answers, and there are sample pages available here.

From the webpage:

“Math Mammoth Money is a worktext that covers U.S. money-related topics usually encountered during grades 1-3. The book contains both textbook explanations and exercises, and is designed to be very easy to teach from, requiring very little teacher preparation (you do need to find some practice coins before the lessons).”

The pdf version of this worktext is also enabled for annotation, just as the Clock worktext is, meaning, as I said above, should you choose to have your student fill in his or her answers on the computer, you can do so if you have Adobe Reader version 9 or greater.

Here is a description of what the US Money worktext covers, from the webpage:

“The book starts with first-grade topics such as counting pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. While the lessons use pictures for the coins, practicing with real coins is, of course, even better and you should have real money on hand to practice with.

From there, the lessons advance towards second-grade, and finally to third grade topics. Therefore, you can also let your child work the pages of this book in different time periods, and not go through it all at once, depending on your child’s current level.

The lesson Making Change explains two basic ways of finding the change: counting up, and subtracting (finding the difference). This is all done with mental math. The next lesson also practices money problems using mental math.

In the last lesson we solve money problems by adding and subtracting money amounts vertically (in columns).”

We are going very slowly through this one, because of the various special needs we deal with. So far, “The Batman” is doing pretty well, though I imagine he will need a lot more help when we get to the “counting change” part of the lessons. “Mr. Loquacious” is doing exceptionally well counting various coins together to get to the total, but “Mr. Puzzler” still has considerable trouble when counting coins if we switch from one coin to another.

Here are the only pictures I managed to get of the boys doing worksheets from US Money:

First, we have “The Puzzler” and “The Batman” . . .

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. . . and then we have “Mr. Loquacious” doing his!

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Overall, and to my surprise, we really liked Math Mammoth Clock and Math Mammoth US Money. Whenever I tell them that we’ll be working in these worktext, they are all quick to come to the table, which just shows that they are actually enjoying learning about these topics. As far as I’m concerned, that’s all I need for an educational product to be a success, and the added bonus is that the prices are great, too!

The Schoolhouse Review Crew used many different products from Math Mammoth, and have written wonderful reviews to give you an idea of what they thought of this and other products. Please click the graphic below to see what they all thought!

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Cartooning with Pat Knepley . . . a TOS Review

As a member of The Schoolhouse Review Crew, I was given an opportunity to review one of several Art Projects DVDs from See The Light. Even though there were a number of good choices, I had no trouble at all deciding what would be a good fit here, and chose Art Projects: Cartooning with Pat Knepley for “The Artist” to work through, because he can often be found curled up somewhere with paper and pencil, drawing something. 🙂 I was dead on with this one, too! When I told him I was filling out the interest form to request it, his reaction was an immediate “oh, I hope we get that one!”

As it turned out, “The Artist” was not the only interested child in this house during this review . . . “Mr. Loquacious” asked if HE could do it as well! Of course, I said yes, he was welcome to join in. 🙂 He did eagerly watch the DVD along with his brother, and did some of the assignments, however, he got bored with it part way through and quit. While he was participating, though, he did improve his drawing, and even went off the lessons to create his own idea at least once, which I will show with pictures later.

See The Light Art Projects is a series of DVDs that can be used as stand alone DVDs, or with the complete box set, as a school year’s worth of lessons drawn from the work of nine famous artists. As I said before, we chose Art Projects: Cartooning with Pat Knepley, but there are several other choices in the Art Projects line, all of which you can read about here.

The Art Projects: Cartooning with Pat Knepley DVD is an enjoyable way for anyone of any age to learn cartooning basics, though it is designed for anyone age 5 and up. With this DVD, you and/or your children will learn:

ART HISTORY – Classical Cartooning

ART ELEMENTS – Line, Space and Shape

ART CONCEPTS – Exaggeration and Movement

And you’ll learn these things with very little financial investment. All you will need to buy is the DVD, priced at $14.99. As far as supplies, you will need very little, most of which I would bet you already have around your home! From the website, the supplies needed are:

•Several sheets of plain white paper (any size)

•A #2 pencil

•A pencil sharpener

•Good white or gray kneaded eraser

•A fine point black marker

•A thick black permanent marker

We already had everything except the special eraser, which “The Artist” ended up not even needing to use, he simply used his regular school eraser!

The instructor on the DVD was very personable, and seemed to be very easy to follow as she led the student in creating basic cartoons, using ideas as simple as different vegetables for characters.

Here is “The Artist” watching and creating along with the DVD . . .

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Unfortunately, the one picture I managed to get of “Mr. Loquacious” did not turn out, so I can’t show it to you. However, I did get some photos of the work both of the boys did, and I CAN show them to you! 🙂

Ms. Knepley starts the student off with the first segment being devoted to creating parts of the face, showing how to make eyes, noses, and mouths in ways that will turn something as simple as the aforementioned vegetables into funny characters. Here is “The Artist’s” practice page . . .

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And here is the one that “Mr. Loquacious” did.

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She then continues on with making cartoon characters out of simple vegetable shapes, as I mentioned before. Here are some that “The Artist” did . . .

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And here are “Mr. Loquacious’s” veggie characters!

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Next, Ms. Knepley had a segment on making cartoon faces. Here is what “The Artist” got from this part . . .

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And, since “Mr. Loquacious” was still participating at this point, I have the page he did, as well . . .

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Next, the lessons go into drawing cartoon style people. These are “The Artist’s” practice pages . . .

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And since “Mr. Loquacious” was still participating at this point, I also have his practice drawings of cartoon style people . . .

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It was at this point that “Mr. Loquacious” said he didn’t want to do the DVD anymore, and since I had not originally planned on having him do it at all, I figured that it was a bonus just having him doing any of it, and allowed him to stop. He did, however, do one more thing, he made a cartoon drawing on his own, using one of his toy cars, which you can see below.

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After learning to draw cartoon style people, “The Artist” went on to the segment on drawing cartoon style animals. Here we have what he did after watching that part of the lesson.

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Next, “The Artist” learned about using numbers to create cartoon faces. Here is what he did with the numbers 2, 3, 4 & 5 . . .

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The final segment was on making a comic strip. Here is what “The Artist” did with it . . .

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“The Artist” enjoyed learning how to do all these things so much that after following along with all the segments on the DVD, he went on and created his own characters using a variety of fruits and vegetables, as you can see below. 🙂

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I asked “The Artist” to write down for me what he saw as the pro’s and con’s of the Art Projects: Cartooning with Pat Knepley DVD, and this is what he wrote:

Pros:

I liked all the tips for cartoon speech and thought bubbles for when I plan to make my own comic.

Cons:

Would be better if the whole lesson was separated into multiple segments.
Would be better if you went a little slower when you were showing how to draw the cartoons and characters.

So, overall, I believe this was a pretty good fit for us. I do think that “Mr. Loquacious” would probably have stuck with it to the end if, as “The Artist” pointed out, the lessons were actually separated into segments using a menu and chapters, instead of just one long lesson. The DVD is about 70 minutes long, which was just too much at one time for either of the boys. While “The Artist” was able to go back and forth and finish it, “Mr. Loquacious” became overwhelmed and chose not to finish. With that one change, I think this could be a really good set of lessons. I don’t know if the other DVD’s in this set are arranged as one long lesson the way that Art Projects: Cartooning with Pat Knepley is, but if so, then changing that is the one thing I would suggest to make the series just right. At $14.99, I think this would be a good fit for any homeschool family which includes a budding artist or two!

Check out reviews of this and other See The Light Art Projects by clicking the graphic below!

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Simplified Pantry . . . a TOS Review for the Mamas! :-)

I was so excited to be chosen as one of the reviewers for Simplified Pantry written by Mystie Winkler!

As a reviewer, I was given access to three different products, and asked to choose one to use during the review period so I could tell my readers about it. I chose Mystie Winkler’s e-book Simplified Dinners, because I am ALWAYS looking for some way to simplify this part of my life, while at the same time, making sure my family is well fed with meals they actually enjoy. Well, Simplified Dinners is a definite winner with us!

This is a 30 page e-book, which I chose to print out and put into a three-ring binder. This is not a “cook-book” like I was used to, rather it is more of a how-to book. In her e-book, Mystie has given us first an explanation as to how and why she came up with this system, an explanation which really struck a chord with me. She was really tired of thumbing through and bookmarking cookbooks, recipe cards, etc, and having to keep track of ingredients needed. This system helped Mystie to pare down her pantry, purge her recipes, and even made it easier to let her children help in the kitchen. That last one turned out to be important for me, as during the review period I had surgery, and am currently unable to stand at the stove and cook, so my husband has had to take over a lot of what I normally do, with at least one of our children (“The Artist”) helping some. More on that later!

Mystie then gives us a master pantry list, which I went over when deciding which meal ideas to use during this review. I wanted to see just how much I could do without actually needing to go out and buy a ton of special stuff. I was surprised to discover how many things I was already set to make, with only minimal purchases! The reason for this is (from the Simplified Dinners website) “Simplified Pantry is all about encouraging homestyle cooking with basic ingredients. It is possible to cook good, healthy food without a pantry full of specialized ingredients, and it is possible to make easy dinners without shortcut, pre-prepared products. Simplified Dinners (and the gluten- and dairy-free edition!), enables anyone to transition toward home-prepared, real, whole foods cooking—even those less confident in the kitchen. Simplified Dinners helps keep dinner streamlined while allowing flexibility.”

Mystie also points out on her website how essential menu planning is in helping to promote peace in our home and our mind. However, we rarely think much about all the steps that are involved in menu planning. Also from the website:

“But do you realize how many steps are actually involved in menu planning? Typical menu planning involves multiple dependent steps:

1.Find out what’s on sale or what coupons you have.
2.Find recipes you can cook and want to eat.
3.Figure out what ingredients you need to cook those recipes.
4.Try to mesh the ingredients you need with what’s on sale.
5.Make the grocery list.
6.Shop.
7.Remember what you’re going to make for dinner when, and pull it off.
8.Use the perishables before they go bad.

No wonder we often dread it, forget to do it, or procrastinate.”

That was me, before this review, to be honest.

The e-book Simplified Dinners is SO easy to implement . . . if *I* could do it, anyone can do it, believe me! I make no claims whatsoever to being a “domestic diva”, lol!

Mystie has broken it down into categories:

•Slow-Cooker Roasts
•Slow-Cooker, No-Defrost Chicken Pieces
•Chicken-in-a-Pot
•Skillet Cutlets with Pan Sauces
•Marinades for Grilling or Broiling
•Foil-Packet Fish
•Stovetop Pasta
•Bean Pots
•Fajitas
•Quesadillas
•Taco Bar
•Burritos or Enchiladas
•Taquitos
•Frittata
•Oven Omelette
•Pizza
•Simple Stir-fry
•Potato Hash
•Baked Potato Bar
•Bean Soups
•Stews
•Blended Vegetable Soups
•Quick Soups
•Main Dish Salads
•Vegetable Side Dishes
•Side-Dish Salads
•Starchy Side Dishes

What Mystie has done, rather than create yet another recipe book, is to give a basic method for each of the above mentioned categories, along with anywhere from three to six or more alternative ways to make the same basic dish into something different. For example, Chicken-in-a-Pot gives the basic method for cooking a whole chicken, but then gives us three other ways to do it, called “Sassy”, “A More Interesting Basic”, and “40 Cloves of Garlic”. Each alternative idea switches up some ingredients, while using the basic method.

At the end of the e-book, Mystie even gives us a sample winter menu plan and a blank menu planner.

If you’d like to get a better look at what you’ll be getting, you can download a sample here, but really, I’m telling you that at the price of $12.99, Simplified Dinners is well worth the purchase!

Here are some of the dinners we had during the review period:

Peanut Butter Chicken (in the slow cooker) . . .

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and on the plate!

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Here, we have the Oven Omelette, which was a huge hit at my house!

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Orange Honey Chicken . . .

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Chicken-in-a-Pot (sassy version) . . .

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Now then, as I said above, I am now recovering from surgery on both of my feet, and unable to do a lot of what I usually do. My husband was able to take this method, with ingredients I had made sure to have on hand, and with “The Artist” as his assistant, he made the Flexible Frittata for our supper one night!

Here are the ingredients . . .

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The process . . .

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And the finished product!

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I think they did a great job, don’t you? Just so you know, that was my plate, and I only eat small servings since my bariatric surgery. There was enough for a family of six, with the other five being pretty big eaters, and nobody went hungry! 🙂

Mystie also offers a Simple Gluten Free & Dairy Free Meals edition of her e-book, also at the reasonable price of $12.99. I know a lot of people who need to find ways to feed their family without using gluten or dairy . . . this one is for you!

The third product reviewed by members of the crew was Paperless Home Organization, which is available for only $3.99!

I do intend to give this one a try when I’m feeling more recovered from my surgery, but I am more of a hard-copy schedule and list maker type, to be truthful. I know a lot of people who are really more likely to go paperless if given an easy way to do so, though, so here is the product if that description fits you!

The prices for Mystie’s e-books are very good as they are, but right now, she is offering a discount to my readers of 30% off any or all of the e-books! Just use the code TOS2013, and you will receive this discount. You do need to hurry though, because this code will only work until June 3, 2013!

Click below to find out what my fellow crewmembers thought of Simplified Dinners, Simple Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free Meals, and Paperless Home Organization!

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Budding Authors Workbooks & 6 Weeks to Understanding Grammar . . . a TOS Review

Three of our four boys have been helping me to review some products from author Joyce Herzog for a few weeks now. My twins, “Mr. loquacious” and “The Puzzler” have been using the Budding Authors Workbooks, and one of my older boys, “The Artist” has been working with the book 6 Weeks to Understanding Grammar.

I’m going to talk first about the Budding Authors set. This set was different from what I expected it to be, as it is simply a set of workbooks with minimal instruction for the parent/teacher. Don’t let that scare you off, however, because they are quite easy to use!

I had my twins working in the first book, which is titled Step Into Writing. In this book, children will be taking first steps in writing sentences and stories. Since my twins have some developmental delays, along with educational delays that resulted from several years in foster care before coming to us for adoption, this was an appropriate beginning point for them. You may download a sample from this workbook here.

At the very beginning of the book is a page and a half section of instruction for the parent/teacher, primarily describing the kinds of pages you will find in the workbook, and how to use them. The first one listed is Copywork, which is exactly what you would expect it to be. Your child will have a short story to copy, the first one consisting of just one easy sentence. Eventually, the short stories for copywork will be five sentences in the Step Into Writing Workbook. Each day, the student’s work should concentrate on perfection, not on time spent. The idea is that the child is to use his or her very best printing, spacing of words for ease of reading, and remembering to include all capitals and punctuation. The author says that at this level, 10 minutes is a reasonable working time for the copywork each day.

The second type of workbook page in this workbook are the dictation pages. There is a page at the beginning of the book for the parent/teacher which will give you the short story to dictate to your child for each page. In my copy, the page giving me the dictation to read to the child began with dictation for page 9, but the first dictation page for the student to complete was actually page 6, so we skipped that and began with the next set of pages. You will be given a very short, simple story to read to the child, and they will then copy it on their workbook page. My boys really had a problem with the way the writing pages are laid out, though. I like them, they are formatted with two lines, similar to another handwriting program I’ve used with my oldest son, but the twins just couldn’t grasp how to write with this type of lines, and asked me to please allow them to use regular primary paper, so that’s what I did. Each workbook page has thin column sections at the far right with the headings “C” for capitalization, “P” for punctuation, and “S” for spelling. There is a fourth column that you can use for whatever other category you feel your child needs to work on. For my twins, I used a ruler to make the columns on their primary paper.

Next, there is the “Experience Story” page after each dictation page. For this page, you and your child discuss the picture at the top of the page, and decide what the story would be about. Then, your child will dictate the story to you, as you write it down for him or her.

My book says there is also a dictionary page, but it was missing from my copy. It is included in the second workbook “Step On Into Writing”, which we will move on to when we have completed Step Into Writing.

This set of workbooks is very nice, although as I said before, my boys didn’t care for the format of the lines for writing. If we continue using it, we will use regular primary paper for their writing. This set of workbooks is, in my opinion, perfect for anyone who enjoys the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling. In our family, we use a mix of Charlotte Mason, unschooling, unit study and lapbooking, so the idea of this set is one that works for us at this time. You can purchase the set of Budding Author Workbooks at the following prices:

Step Into Writing – $10.00

Step On Into Writing – $10.00

Adventures In Writing – $10.00

Then And Now – $12.00

Writing US History – $15.00

As I said before, I had “The Artist” going through Joyce Herzog’s 6 Weeks to Understanding Grammar.

This is a small book, 40 pages in length, and much to my surprise turned out to be mostly review for “The Artist”, so what I ended up doing with it was to read it myself, simply to learn how to teach basic grammar to my younger boys when they are ready. The author has made it extremely simple to teach using this little book and some writing paper! You may download a sample of this book here. From the website, This book “follows the teaching style of a hundred years ago: state it simply and give an example.” This little book very easily clears up grammar confusion, and is available here for $12.00.

I think these books are at a good price, and will help your “Budding Authors” on their journey as writers!

Here is “The Puzzler” doing copywork . . .

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And “Mr. Loquacious” doing the same!

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And a quick shot of “The Artist” working on grammar! 🙂

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To see what other crew members thought of this and other products from Joyce Herzog, please click on the graphic below

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Spanish For You! . . . a TOS Review

My children and I have been wanting to learn Spanish ever since moving here to New Mexico. We get a LOT more exposure to the Spanish language here than we ever did living in Michigan, so when the opportunity to review Spanish For You! – Fiestas, by Debbie Annett MSEd. came up, I decided to go for it.

Spanish For You! comes as a full year, theme based curriculum, centered around specific themes. There are two so far, Estaciones (Seasons), and Fiestas (celebrations), both focused at the 3rd through 8th grade range. It is my understanding that there will be more themes to come, as they are written and tested. Ms. Annett tests each one for a full school year in a teaching environment, so as to iron out any changes that may need to be made.

We were given Spanish For You! Fiestas, and because we are really beginners, I chose to use the grades 3 -4.

We received the 45 page soft cover curriculum, along with downloads of the lesson guides and self checking worksheets for grades 3 – 4, grades 5 – 6, and grades 7 – 8, as well as a pdf of flash card pages to print and cut out. We also received an e-book copy of the physical curriculum book, an mp3 of a native Spanish speaker reading the book that we received, and mp3 files to use throughout the lessons as instructed by the curriculum. These files greatly aid in learning correct pronounciation! 🙂

Here is a sample of Spanish For You! Fiestas for you to check out.

There are a number of other freebies that you can use, either along with the curriculum, or as a trial to see if it would work for you. For example:

There is a sample lesson guide to give you an idea of what you will be doing.

Here are some sample worksheets for you to try.

Spanish For You! offers free mini lessons for you to check out, and more free worksheets, as well!

The author of Spanish For You! is Debbie Annett, MSEd. She is an Illinois State Certified Teacher with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from the University of Illinois and a master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Northern Illinois University. Ms. Annett has also studied in Seville, Spain, and has eight years of international business experience prior to becoming a teacher. She is now teaching Spanish classes for a home-school coop, in grades three through high school, along with private tutoring and after school Spanish enrichment classes.

In the About the Author section of the Spanish For You! website, Ms. Annett tells us about the needs she felt were not being fully met in Spanish lessons at the elementary and middle school levels:

• A need for easy flow from elementary/middle school Spanish into any high school curriculum.
• A need for an easy to schedule program that accomplishes much learning over time without being overly burdensome.
• A need for an effective curriculum that would allow families or schools to use the same book with all their students during the same school year. This saves time and money!
• A need for affordability and ease of use – Materials do not need to be fancy, complicated, and expensive in order to learn. Simple, well presented and designed lessons that engage students is what ensures solid learning.
• A need for audio – so many curriculums provide some audio, but many times I have heard parents and students say that they wish they could hear ALL the material in their book.
• A need to be able to place students new to a program with their grade level whether they have prior Spanish learning or not. When Spanish is taught in a classroom setting, there is always the question of how to place new students without prior Spanish learning.

While exploring the Spanish For You! website, I also found the author’s blog, where there is a lot of fun, informational ideas to go along with her curriculum.

Ms. Annett’s suggested schedule is three to four days per week, but she has also made a point of stating that if need be, you can certainly take it slower, which is what we had to do, for a variety of reasons. However, even with the various special needs of my children, combined with the fact that our house has been hit with one illness after another for the past few months, we were able to learn some Spanish we had not known before. My kids really liked the lesson that was centered around birthdays, because my twins had a birthday while we were reviewing Spanish For You! They love having flash cards, and plan to color them before we laminate them.

I am hoping that if we continue with this curriculum, we will be able to become at least somewhat conversant in Spanish. Right now, we are working through the grade 3 – 4 section, and then I plan to go right back and do the grade 5 – 6, followed by grades 7 – 8. Eventually, I may even be pronouncing the names of many of our local streets correctly, something I am apparently NOT doing as of yet. 🙂

I really like this curriculum. From the About the Curriculum section of the website, you will find loads of information about why this is a good choice. For example, students learn HOW the language works. Students learn to speak, read, and write Spanish through interesting themes, and can do the themes in any order, rather than having to learn level by level. The curriculum is easy to use, and it’s quite easy to be flexible in your scheduling. Children of multiple ages and grade levels can use it together.

Spanish For You! is very affordable. You can purchase your curriculum here, either as a complete package of all grade levels for $64.95, or you can get individual grade levels (grade 3 – 4, grade 5 – 6, or grade 7 – 8) for $39.95 each. Extra books are $12.95 each.

As I said before, we really enjoy this curriculum! I think if we keep at it, we will be able to learn more and more, and eventually be able to understand the Spanish we hear being spoken all around us, now that we live in a city that has a large Hispanic presence. 🙂

To find out what other crew members thought of Spanish For You! Fiestas and Spanish For You! Estaciones, please click below . . .

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Papa’s Pearls . . . a TOS Review

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I recently had the opportunity to review a book called Papa’s Pearls: A Father’s Gift of Love and Wisdom to His Children and Grandchildren written by Diane Flynn Keith, for the Schoolhouse Review Crew.

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I thought, when I first expressed interest in this review, that the author’s name sounded very familiar. Well, it WAS familiar, and if you are a home-school parent, her name may well be familiar to you as well . . .

Diane Flynn Keith is pretty well-known in home-school circles. She is the author of the popular book “Carschooling: Over 350 Entertaining Games & Activities To Turn Travel Time Into Learning Time” (the main reason she was familiar to me, as I have long wanted to buy this particular book!), is the co-author of “Learning With Little Lulu Lemon” and “Home Preschool Curriculum”. She has also contributed to four books on the topic of homeschooling: “The Homeschooling Almanac”, “The California Homeschool Guide”, “The Ultimate Book of Homeschooling Ideas”, and “Homeschooling Styles”. Mrs. Keith publishes three different e-newsletters: ” Clickschooling”, “Carschooling”, and “Universal Preschool”, and coaches thousands of home-school parents via her writing, private consultations, speaking engagements, and websites, including:
PapasPearls.com
Homefires.com
Carschooling.com
ClickSchooling.com
UniversalPreschool.com

Papa’s Pearls is a fairly short read, at just 109 pages, but it is just jam-packed with “pearls of wisdom” from Mrs. Keith’s father, Carol Joseph Flynn, whose mother named him after King Carol 1 of Romania. Carol Joseph Flynn was simply called “Papa” by his children and grandchildren, and he left them a legacy of guiding principles, which they continue to use in their own lives even today.

Papa came up from a tough life during the depression era, and having a “girl’s name” made him the target of bullies from early on. He learned to “give as good as he got”, and gained respect as a result. Papa sold papers as a young boy, and by doing so was able to help his family. Often, the papers he sold for half a penny each, were what enabled his own father to have lunch money for the next day.

Papa misbehaved in school quite often, and as a result, spent much time visiting the principal’s office. He also, during his teen years, got involved with criminal elements of the day, and not just hanging around with the delinquents of the day, but according to his daughter (Diane Flynn Keith), was likely involved in real crime, as well. Finally, after a particularly bad incident in high school, the principle asked him which would be the worst possible punishment for him, to be suspended for two weeks, or to be sent to “Continuation School”, which was an alternative school for delinquents and “really bad boys”. Because he felt it would bring shame and humiliation onto himself and his family to go to Continuation School, he told the principal that this would be the worst thing possible. The principal did, indeed, choose to transfer papa to the alternative school as his punishment. Rather than be the worst thing that ever happened to him, however, this actually ended up being the thing that turned Papa’s life around for good. Mrs. Flynn says in her book Papa’s Pearls that it is perhaps because of this punishment that one of Papa’s pearls came to be . . . “What’s the worst thing that could happen?”

This book reads like a story, with many of Papa’s pearls woven into it. Pearls such as:

Everyone deserves a second chance.

You gotta use your street smarts.

When you fall down–Get back up, brush yourself off, and try again!

Tell yourself you like it.

Take a hike–Just walk away from it!

Where’s the money?

Get it in writing!

Life is too short. Relax. Take a little time off.

. . . and many more!

Mrs. Keith writes in an engaging way, and her book caught me immediately. I wanted to find out what would happen next, even as I would need to put the book down to go do some task that needed to be done.

This story takes us from the time Papa was born, on January 19th, 1922, right up to the time he died, at age 89, on his 66th wedding anniversary. In between those dates, he was a wealth of wisdom and love to his children and grandchildren. He made certain that they always knew he was there for them no matter what, and he taught them many life lessons along the way. Papa went from a poor depression era kid with a penchant for trouble, to becoming a successful business owner. He gave support to his children and grandchildren all along the way. When Mrs. Flynn decided she was going to homeschool her children, and was threatened with legal repercussions (this was at a time when homeschooling was not as accepted as it is now) , Papa was right behind her, and used his contacts to help her with the authorities.

I read this book myself, because I prefer to preview some things before letting my kids have them, or using them as read alouds. Although I might eventually have my kids read it themselves, there are some expletives in it, along with some topics that I don’t really want to my kids to be exposed to as of yet.

I found this to be an excellent book for parents to read, it has a great deal in it to help us all along this parenting journey.

You can purchase an autographed copy of Papa’s Pearls: A Father’s Gift of Love and Wisdom to His Children and Grandchildren here for $21.97, which includes shipping and handling. I definitely recommend purchasing this book and reading it yourself!

To read what other crew members thought of Papa’s Pearls, please click below . . .

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